While many connected with Warwickshire CCC showed their valour on the battlefields of France, back at home club Members kept their beloved club alive. Brian Halford reports
The Tommy memorial on public display in reception at Edgbaston stands as a tribute to those brave people who lost their lives in the First World War. It was a time when, as with the country as a whole, the cricket community pulled together – and while many connected with Warwickshire CCC and surrounding clubs showed their valour on the battlefields of France, back at home Warwickshire’s members kept their beloved club alive. Brian Halford reports.
Visitors to Edgbaston from all over the world during 2019 will see the ‘Warwickshire Tommy’ memorial placed proudly in reception as a tribute to the club’s staff, players, members and supporters who lost their lives in the First World War.
The memorial was unveiled before the final home match of the 2018 season at Edgbaston when the Tommy was brought onto the field before the first day of Warwickshire v Kent.
The players lined up for a minute’s silence, almost 100 years after the conflict which tore apart a generation came to an end.
The sacrifices made by that generation still resonate strongly today and evoke enormous respect and gratitude, not least with Warwickshire club captain Jeetan Patel. After that game ended in his team winning the championship Division Two title, in an emotional interview Patel referred to the great history of the club and referenced his predecessors on the playing staff who died during the First World War.
Warwickshire CCC and the surrounding local clubs with whom it has always been so strongly connected fully shared in the huge national cost of the conflict.
On Saturday August 29, 1914, Warwickshire’s players were applauded from the field, having just beaten champions Surrey in their final match of the season at Edgbaston. They were led in by Percy Jeeves whose seven wickets in the match included the great Jack Hobbs, bowled by an inswinger that knocked out leg-stump.
Jeeves, a brilliant all-rounder, appeared destined to played for his country. Instead, he died for his country.
Jeeves walked up the Edgbaston pavilion steps that day having already signed up for the 2nd Birmingham Pals (15th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment). The former Moseley CC player would never play for Warwickshire again.
On July 22, 1916, during the Battle of High Wood on The Somme, Jeeves, aged 28, disappeared without trace. How many of the spectators who applauded him into the pavilion on that day in 1914 were also to perish during the war is unknown – but, safe to say, there were plenty.
Alongside Jeeves in the 15th Battalion served his friends Harold and Len Bates, sons of Warwickshire groundsman, John. Harold, born in the pavilion at Edgbaston, was to die on the Western Front, aged 26, in August 1916, a month after Jeeves perished. In April 1917 the club suffered another grievous loss when Harold Goodwin, captain in 1910, was killed at Arras, aged 31.
Other players came through the conflict to build fine careers. Len Bates went on to play 440 matches and score 19,326 runs for Warwickshire. Jack Parsons, a gifted batsman, joined the Warwickshire Yeomanry, rose to captain and took part in what is widely thought to be the last ever cavalry charge by the British Army, at Beersheba in 1917.
Parsons was awarded the Military Cross then resumed his cricket career (many good judges thought he should have played for England) before being ordained and spending the second half of his long and remarkable life in the clergy.
As well as players, many of Warwickshire’s staff, members and supporters also volunteered to fight for their country. George Austin, scorer, served in the Dardanelles with the Royal Marines. Head groundsman Arthur Taylor, a rifleman, became a prisoner of war in Germany.
Local clubs, meanwhile, contributed many men. In the autumn of 1914 the Birmingham Post reported that: “At a committee meeting of the Knowle & Dorridge Cricket Club it was announced that the following members had been accepted for service in the army: L. Ratcliffe, M.L.Clutterbuck, Stanley Ibbotson, Eric Cahsmore, A.F.Whitfield, Wilfred Hughes, N.D.Impey, C.T.Hutchings, J.F.Harrison, Harold Bower, J.Balkwill, W.K.Hudson, P.L.Patterson, C.L.Hughes, B.A.Peace.”
While those men and thousands of others embarked upon military training at Sutton Park, the challenge back at Edgbaston was to keep the club going. It was with mixed feelings that Warwickshire learned that the ground would not be requisitioned by the War Office. This left them with upkeep costs of around £1,800 per year to find with next to no income. The club’s survival was due in large part to the members. Asked to keep paying their subs through the years without cricket, many loyally did so.
Warwickshire chief executive Neil Snowball said: “In recognition of the centenary of the end of the Great War, it is important to everyone at Warwickshire County Cricket Club that we mark the occasion. A hundred years on, the sacrifices made by that generation are still remembered with the greatest reverence and respect by this club.
“When we unveiled our Tommy to our members and supporters before the Kent game in September it was a very moving ceremony. It has now been moved into the main reception as part of a permanent display that will be seen by the thousands of visitors to Edgbaston next year.”